Start saying goodbye, then, to civil liberties in this country. Oh, maybe not now, and maybe not even that soon; but when the identity cards bill is passed, and the database has been built 1 then the infrastructure will be in place for the world’s largest ever experiment in social control.
We already have near-ubiquitous surveillance, with constantly-improving automatic recognition: of faces and of vehicle number plates. Add to that the national identity database with its biometrics, and the growing collection of DNA data, and I foresee the potential for a future that even Orwell in his worst nightmare wouldn’t have believed possible.
Pessimistic? Yes, certainly. It may be that the public will rebel against it when they realise how much it will cost, for example. I gather that that is what happened in Australia. But even if they do, once the legislation is in place, how can it be stopped? It seems likely that the best we can hope for there is a change of government. And realistically, that means the Tories.
After all this time there’s no way on this Earth that I’m going to put my faith in that lot. No matter that they might have voted against the government on the bill, if they get into power and the act is in force, there isn’t a chance — not a chance in all the worlds of the putative multiverse — that they’ll repeal the legislation.
In fact, that is the true nightmare scenario: it’s possible that Blair and Brown are not actually malicious about this, just stupid and corrosively misguided. Imagine, though, what it would have been like if Thatcher’s government had had ubiquitous, mandatory ID and surveillance. Imagine (as I’ve suggested before) if that had been the situation during the miners’ strike. Or when MI5 were undermining the Callaghan government, for that matter, although that’s a slightly different nightmare.
And it just goes on and on: the Metropolitan Police are now going to drug-test their own officers. Now, you can safely argue that police officers shouldn’t be under the influence while on duty: but it is a clear violation of their personal liberty, and it just adds to the way in which our national culture is becoming more and more authoritarian. Even totalitarian.
1. I realise that that requires success in the biggest-ever government IT project, but bear with me.